Assibilation: A Sound Change in Linguistics


Assibilation: A Sound Change in Linguistics

Assibilation is a term used to describe a sound change that results in a sibilant consonant, such as /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ or /dʒ/. A sibilant consonant is one that is produced with a hissing or buzzing sound, like the sound of air escaping from a tire. Assibilation is a form of spirantization, which is a general term for the weakening or softening of consonants.

Assibilation is commonly the final phase of palatalization, which is a process that involves the movement of the tongue toward the hard palate (the roof of the mouth) during the articulation of a consonant. Palatalization often affects velar consonants, such as /k/ and /g/, and dental consonants, such as /t/ and /d/. For example, in some varieties of Arabic, the interdental consonants /θ/, /ð/ and /ðˤ/ (represented by the letters ṯāʾ, ḏāl and ẓāʾ) are assibilated to /s/, /z/ and /zˤ/ in certain contexts. Similarly, in the history of several Bantu languages, the Proto-Bantu consonant *k was palatalized and assibilated to /s/ or /ʃ/ before a close or near-close vowel.

Assibilation can also affect other types of consonants, such as alveolar consonants (/t/, /d/, /n/, /l/) and retroflex consonants (/ʈ/, /ɖ/, /ɳ/, /ɭ/). For example, in Finnic languages (such as Finnish and Estonian), *ti changed to /si/. In some Indo-Aryan languages (such as Hindi and Punjabi), retroflex consonants are assibilated to affricates (/ʈ/ to /tʃ/, /ɖ/ to /dʒ/) before front vowels.

Assibilation is an example of how sounds can change over time and across dialects and languages. It can have various effects on the phonological system, such as creating new contrasts, reducing contrasts, or triggering further changes. It can also have implications for the morphology, orthography and etymology of words.

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Examples of Assibilation in Different Languages

Assibilation can be found in many languages and language families around the world. Here are some examples of assibilation in different languages, along with the historical or dialectal sources of the sound change.

  • In Romance languages (such as French, Spanish and Italian), Latin /t/ and /d/ were assibilated to /ts/ and /dz/ before /i/ or /j/ (a consonantal /i/ sound). For example, Latin ratio became French raison, Spanish razón and Italian ragione. In some cases, the assibilated consonants were further simplified to /s/ and /z/, such as in French poisson (from Latin piscis) and Italian mese (from Latin menses).
  • In Slavic languages (such as Russian, Polish and Czech), Proto-Slavic *tj and *dj were assibilated to /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ before front vowels. For example, Proto-Slavic *otьcь became Russian otets, Polish ojciec and Czech otec. In some cases, the assibilated consonants were further palatalized to /ɕ/ and /ʑ/, such as in Polish sieć (from Proto-Slavic *sětь) and Czech děti (from Proto-Slavic *děti).
  • In Celtic languages (such as Irish, Welsh and Breton), Proto-Celtic *kÊ· was assibilated to /xÊ·/ before front vowels. For example, Proto-Celtic *kÊ·is became Irish cé, Welsh pwy and Breton piv. In some cases, the assibilated consonant was further lenited to /hÊ·/ or lost, such as in Irish sé (from Proto-Celtic *swekÊ·s) and Welsh chwech (from Proto-Celtic *sweks).
  • In Japanese, Old Japanese /ti/ and /di/ were assibilated to /tɕi/ and /dʑi/, which are now written as ち and じ. For example, Old Japanese woti became Modern Japanese yotchi, and Old Japanese kadi became Modern Japanese kaji. In some cases, the assibilated consonants were further palatalized to /ɕ/ and /ʑ/, such as in Modern Japanese keshi (from Old Japanese ketsi) and Modern Japanese jiji (from Old Japanese didi).
  • In Turkish, Ottoman Turkish /t/ and /d/ were assibilated to /s/ and /z/ before a high front vowel or a palatal glide. For example, Ottoman Turkish توتونچوق‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎ (tütünçük) became Modern Turkish sütunçuk, and Ottoman Turkish دولابچه (dolapçe) became Modern Turkish zolapçe.